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Shedding light on a dark chapter of Range policy

If Iron Range residents are going to make informed decisions about development projects, they need all the facts.

MPR has an informative update on the provision to shed more light on development deals under the purvey of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board. A law that effectively hides key financial details about companies that receive agency funds was tucked in a conference bill a couple years ago to protect Excelsior Energy and its supporters. Now State Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) seeks to reopen the information for public requests.

The primary argument against the bill is that public knowledge of loan expenditures by developers might discourage businesses from investing on the Iron Range.

This is nonsense.

It’s public money (local Iron Range mining revenue generated in lieu of property taxes the mines don’t pay). In the case of Excelsior Energy the loans were offered with extremely open conditions until the company was in a position to pay them back, which they aren’t and probably never will be. The IRRRB is famous for forgiving loans once companies begin hiring anyway, so these are among the most favorable loans that any business could receive. Any business that receives them should be held to a higher, not lower, standard for public disclosure.

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Excelsior Energy. Do we want more projects that turn out this way? Or fewer? It could be argued that if we’re in the business of bandying about $9.5 million for the public good we should do every stitch of that business in front of the public eye. Perhaps, properly enforced, such provisions could have prevented the Excelsior deal from happening until the company was better capitalized back in 2001-2003. The restrictions were passed only after the failures of Excelsior Energy were fully realized, a reaction to embarrassment and disappointment.

The only cure to such things is light, glorious light cast upon us all. And a joyous Easter to each of you who celebrate.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post said $8.5 million. The actual amount the IRRRB gave to Excelsior Energy in 2001 and 2003 was $9.5 million. 

This post was written by Aaron J. Brown and originally published on Minnesota Brown. Follow Aaron on Twitter: @minnesotabrown

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